Chelsea top after forgettable Old Trafford stalemate
Mourinho’s return to Manchester United fails to live up to the hype
Chelsea target Wayne Rooney is challenged by Frank Lampard at Old Trafford. Photograph: Alex Livesey/Getty Images
Chelsea’s Ashley Cole (left) and Manchester United’s Wayne Rooney battle for the ball at Old Trafford. Photograph: Martin Rickett/PA Wire
Manchester United 0 Chelsea 0: Maybe the game arrived too early in the season to be a classic. José Mourinho’s return to Old Trafford certainly never conjured up the drama that had been anticipated.
No knee-slides in that crisp, dark suit, and only a few sporadic moments when David Moyes’s first home match as Manchester United manager looked like it may turn into one of the nights of his life.
For the most part, the two managers just stood there, hands in pockets, watching two teams slug it out without managing to create a single clearcut chance.
A game played at this speed, with all the surrounding politics and intrigue, can never be described as dull but the stalemate was disappointing given the weight of expectation that had accompanied the occasion.
There are some games that have everything but a goal. This, however, was not one of them and it will quickly be forgotten compared to some of Mourinho’s previous visits.
His team had defended with supreme organisation but they looked a little feeble in attack and, ultimately, the tactic of not starting with a classic centre-forward did not have any real success.
Andre Schürrle was asked to take on the role of the false number nine, albeit one wearing number 14, with Oscar, Eden Hazard and Kevin de Bruyne in the support roles. For now, this kind of system remains the speciality of Spain and Barcelona.
Mourinho had explained it as wanting to “go for mobility”. In other words, he felt Nemanja Vidic and Rio Ferdinand might be vulnerable to pace and movement.
It felt like a sad reflection on the decline of Torres, a player who once terrorised Old Trafford in Liverpool’s colours. Demba Ba clearly has a lot to ponder, too, after not even making the squad.
Yet Mourinho’s logic was not flawed. United’s centre-backs have been slowed down by age and injuries and, at right-back, Phil Jones is not as quick on the turn as the injured Rafael da Silva. Mourinho’s belief was that a fast, slick, attacking team could conceivably get behind this defence. His new-look frontline was devised because of these very qualities.
What Chelsea lacked sometimes was the presence a more orthodox front man could have provided. Their attackers were not particularly adept at the basics of holding up the ball.
They flickered only sporadically at first, whereas Wayne Rooney, the player Chelsea want to fill the position, was on the other team, chasing down opponents, running for every ball and showing no outward signs about what a strange moment this was in his professional life.
Rooney was given a hero’s welcome by the Old Trafford crowd. If he had listened carefully, he would also have heard himself being serenaded by the Chelsea fans. “We’ll see you next week,” they sang. However scrambled his mind, nobody could doubt his commitment on the night.